Spacial Memory – Behavioural UX

Spacial Memory UX

Behavioural Pattern: Spacial Memory

User goal: finding solutions/tools/actions in a familiar place

Spacial memory “is a cognitive process that enables a person to remember different locations as well as spatial relations between objects.” [1] Often, people remember where things are even better than remembering their name. 

In general, spacial memory works hierarchically. First of all, users remember the general layout of a space. Secondly, they remember cues about specific locations within that space. In other words, it is a top-down process. 

Further, people are likely to look for and recognize configurations and patterns they have seen in the past. They match past experiences, which have been created in a similar context to current layouts and locations. [2]

Implications for UX design

In general, people remember where things are more easily than what they’re named. Consistent layouting and positioning of buttons and certain actions throughout the application utilize spacial memory. Also, remaining consistent with the positioning of other popular applications allows people to apply knowledge they already have. E.g. putting the close or minimize buttons in the top corner.


In addition, there are 4 main UI/UX laws that one can fall back on to utilize spacial memory:

e.g. putting the close or save button in a common place helps people find them.


  • Serial Position Effect:  the first and last items in a list are most memorable. Put important content there.


  • Law of Proximity – “objects that are near, or proximate to each other, tend to be grouped together”


  • Miller’s Law – “The average person can only keep 7 (plus or minus 2) items in their working memory” – if things are conceptually ordered you don’t need to remember where each element is, you can remember where all the elements are and go from there.


  • Von Restorff Effect/Isolation Effect: “when multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered” [3]


Users are prone to orientate based on spacial memory, whether it is physical or in applications. Applying consistent layouts and item positioning can support fast cognitive processing by your users. Further, it utilizes their past experience of interacting with applications.

Review the common laws of UI/UX, like the Serial Positioning Effect to improve usability for your application. And, of course, test it with your users to optimize it further.